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The Hellenistic Period and Art : A Historic Overview

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Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic period starts in 323 BCE with the death of Alexander the great, and ends with the death of Actino in 31 BC. During this period, there was a important change in art style, specially in sculptures. The artists started to create more dramatic postures, more defined lines, high contrast of light, shadows and even emotions. The artist had freedom to explore its subjects from different points of view.

Something that I found interesting, is how the sculptors were capable of creating well-detailed expressions on each sculpture; on every piece you can see pain, fear, pleasure, amusement and death.

This period was particularly interested in recreating heroic themes, but slowly started to shift towards more expressions of the subjects. Two of the most representative pieces of Hellenistic art are Athena Battling Alkyoneos and Laocoön & his sons. You can see clearly how the techniques used on both of these pieces evoke that particular realism on their movements, gestures and expressions, and how it seems that both of the sculptures interact with the viewers.

On the gigantomachy frieze of Athena, by Philoxenos of Eretia, we can see how the sculptors created that characteristic style, showing plenty of emotion on their characters, perfect shadows, and a sense of depth, which add more drama to the piece. The sculpture is part of The Altar of Zeus, Pergamon, a “baroque” monument showing the battle of gods and giants.

On the other hand we have the piece Laocoön and his sons, by Athanadoros, Hagesandros and Polydoros of Rhodes. Shows Laocoön being sacrificed by serpents on an altar, with his two sons. He was a Trojan Priest who warned the Trojans not to accept the Greek wooden horse. He inserted his spear into one side of the Trojan horse to see if it was empty. In order to prevent Laocoön to discover the Greeks inside the horse Poseidon and Athena sent immediately two serpents that killed him and his sons.

His expression it’s a clearly representation of pain and agony, which contrast with the beauty of the sculpture, which seems prominent because the position of the main character and its imposing body.

One of the main features of the Hellenistic Period, is that resemble that we can observe on the sculptures of Athena Battling Alkyoneos and Lacoön, as we see similarities on their expressions, their body movements, the shadows, how every detail were considered in order to portrait the human body on a realistic manner.

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